Over the past week, the Oakland Raiders flirted with the idea of becoming America’s team. Their two-point conversion to beat the New Orleans Saints on opening day in the National Football League endeared them in the hearts of football fans in every corner of America, or at least from Castro Valley to Rocklin.
Unfortunately, the Raiders could not then be crowned the sentimental champions of the NFL. The schedule insisted that they play again, on Sunday, against Atlanta. This time, the magic dust that Derek Carr threw in the country’s eyes last week turned into just dust.
If the Raiders didn’t know it then, they know it now – nobody loves you when you give up 528 yards, which the Raiders did Sunday in the Oakland Coliseum in a 35-28 loss to the Atlanta Falcons.
In the previous week’s wonderment in the bayou, the Raiders gave up 507 yards, putting their two-week total at 1,035, which figures to make them the worst in the league at the end of two weeks of play.
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“A thousand yards? Wow,” said the All-Pro defensive end, Khalil Mack.
No one on the defensive side of the ball for the Raiders comes out of this one with clean hands. Mack, the NFL sack leader last year, doesn’t have any in 2016. Not only is he not sacking anybody, he’s not getting close to the quarterback.
“Being the leader of the defense, that hurts,” Mack continued, in his assessment of the attractive yardage totals that the opponents are running up on him and his boys.
Mack gets the scrutiny because he’s the best player on the team. But he’s not the only one who isn’t producing on D. His colleague off the other edge, Bruce Irvin, didn’t get his name called much on Sunday. The Raiders coaching staff, meanwhile, yanked middle linebacker Ben Heeney on Atlanta’s last couple of possessions.
Moving to the secondary, the big-money offseason acquisition at corner, Sean Smith, came out of Sunday’s game with more third-degree burns. Last week, it was the Saints’ Brandin Cooks who torched him. On Sunday, the fabulous Falcon, Julio Jones, caught five passes for 106 yards and a touchdown where he weakened Smith’s knees. A few little dance steps at the line, and boom – Jones took the action to the middle of the field for a 21-yard touchdown catch from Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan.
The weak coverage by the Raiders’ pass defenders put even more pressure on the pass rushers, who did not respond. Ryan took advantage of Oakland’s problem to throw for 389 yards. The Falcon runners gained 139. What a mess.
Raiders coach Jack Del Rio showed one reason why he was one of the hot coaches in the league going into the Atlanta game. Everybody loved the smile after his call for the successful two-point conversion won last week’s game. On Sunday, he took the bullet for the loss without identifying any player by name. Maybe it’s because the list would have been too long.
He still did the right thing by sticking the whole thing on himself rather than have his guys on defense questioning the meaning of life today.
“I’d say if you want somebody to blame, just blame it on me,” Del Rio said. “If you need somebody to blame, blame the head coach. I’ll take it. We’ll correct what needs to be corrected and we’ll go forward. This is one game today that didn’t go our way. I have the utmost belief in this group of guys. We just simply have to clean things up and be much sharper.”
A lot went right with the offense on America’s Team-for-a-week. The quarterback, Carr, keeps putting on shows that say he’s one of the best in the league. He hit on 34 of 45 passes for 299 yards. Latavius Murray, DeAndre Washington and the other runners picked up a team total of 155.
You’d think 454 yards and 28 points would be enough to win, but you know it’s not when you let the other guys get 528 and 35.
Still, if a couple of crazy plays that went against the Raiders hadn’t been so weird, maybe they win the game.
Finally, when somebody on the defense did make a play, it blew up in the Raiders’ faces. Linebacker Malcolm Smith hit Atlanta running back Tevin Coleman on a third-and-six at the Oakland 8-yard line with the score tied in the fourth quarter. The ball shot into the air line Old Faithful and came down to Falcon receiver Justin Hardy, who took the dirty trick into the end zone.
Next possession for the Raiders, Carr found Amari Cooper deep and got it to him for an apparent 51-yard pass-and-run touchdown. Only problem, Cooper stepped out of bounds and came back in before the catch. Sayonara, touchdown.
But as they say in “Star Trek,” those two things were anomalies. The reality is that the Raiders’ defense, in the one-word estimation of Mack, “sucks.”
Apprised of the coach’s assumption of responsibility for the team’s defensive deficiencies, Mack jumped in to take some himself.
“I’m taking it way more personal than him, because it’s my defense,” Mack said. “It’s a shame. It’s a hurtful feeling. But at the same time, you have to rally, and you have to use this as motivation.”
Two games and 1,035 yards – that’s a lot of motivation.